US takes formal charge of Canada's Afghan mission

Effort to "support Afghan people" cost 157 soldiers' lives.

Canada withdrew formally Thursday from its battle role in Afghanistan, ending five controversial years in the war-torn country.

Canadian Press has the story:

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- The United States took complete charge of Kandahar Thursday, formally ending more than five years of Canadian involvement in southern Afghanistan.

The transfer of command between the Canadian and American headquarters was heralded with warm words of appreciation from the U.S. general in charge of the war-torn region.

"We must recognize all that Canada has given in Kandahar and all they have achieved,'' said Maj.-Gen. James Terry, NATO's southern Afghanistan commander, who served along side Canadians twice during the combat mission.

"I think history has already acclaimed your deeds and history will memorialize your fallen heroes.''

Earlier this week, the 1st Battalion Royal 22e Regiment battle group came out of the field, effectively bringing to an end the country's war in Kandahar.

The ceremony Thursday reflected the handover of Canada's command responsibility for the neighbouring Kandahar districts of Panjwaii and Dand -- the only areas left under Canadian control after the surge of U.S. forces last year.

Since 2002, 157 Canadian soldiers, one diplomat and one journalist have died as a result of the Afghan mission.

Terry, the commander of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division, says the blood, sweat and sacrifice of Canadian, U.S. and Afghan troops have bought the progress that can seen in the relative calm being experienced in the province.

"I'm certain they would much rather be known for how they lived, and not how they died, but what they fought for,'' said Terry. "They fought for the Afghan people.''

Afghan soldiers were equally eloquent.

Brig.-Gen. Ahmad Habibi, who first fought alongside Canadians during the landmark battle codenamed Operation Medusa, gave a heartfelt impromptu speech in the auditorium at new Canada House.

He said Canadians always went above and beyond in what they did, and their influence was felt throughout the province and beyond Kandahar into neighbouring Helmand province, where several operations were conducted.

"Task Force Kandahar took control of the area at such a critical time, insurgents had full control of the areas,'' Habibi said through a translator. "It has served shoulder to shoulder with Afghan forces.''

The withdrawal was ordered by Parliament and the army is hanging part of its legacy on the narrative that it stood its ground against a resurgent Taliban and set the conditions for the U.S. surge.

The Canadians did it with just under 3,000 troops and support elements.

"Just one brigade in strength. I say that again _ just one brigade in strength,'' Brig,-Gen. Dean Milner emphasized in his farewell speech.

There are currently 35,000 coalition and Afghan soldiers in the province.

Asked following the ceremony whether what happened in Afghanistan is appreciated, Milner said Canada has already learned a lot from its experience.

The war has divided Canadians and Milner said the effort to win over a recalcitrant public should continue.

"I think we need to continue pushing the messages out: Look at what Canada has accomplished here,'' he said before launching into list of schools development and army training.

"Look at the chances we've given the Afghans.''

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